History of Cinema in BELGIUM

Historical overview

Belgium became independent from the Netherlands in 1830 and was occupied by Germany during World Wars I and II. It has prospered in the past half century as a modern, technologically advanced European state and member of NATO and the EU. Tensions between the Dutch-speaking Flemings of the north and the French-speaking Walloons of the south have led in recent years to constitutional amendments granting these regions formal recognition and autonomy.

History of cinema from 1896-2000

The names of two Belgians will never be erased from cinema history: Etienne Gaspard Robert, also known as Robertson (1763-1837) and Joseph Plateau (1801-1883). Robertson, physician and balloonist, had seen the functioning of a magic lantern in Maastricht in Holland, at the scientist Van Estin's. He became thrilled by this curious instrument and, by the end of the eighteenth century, he managed to get extraordinary effects out of it by bringing ghosts and phantoms to life. The Fantascope he had developed made magnifying of objects possible, which was obtained by using lighting variations and by moving the chariot on which the device was placed.

The Phenakistiscope, which was invented and brought to perfection by Joseph Plateau between 1828 and 1832, was a disk fitted with vertical crevices: on the inside of the disk were eight images representing eight successive phases of the same movement. The spectator was placed in front of a mirror and looked with one eye through the crevices of the disk which was rotating rapidly. Thus a moving image could be seen. On November 10 1895, the first demonstration in Belgium of the Lumière brothers' invention, the Cinématographe, took place in Brussels before an audience of scientists. The citizens of Brussels had to wait until March 1 1896 - two months after the Parisians - to see at number 7 of the Galerie du Roi La Sortie des Usines Lumière, l'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de La Ciotat or the famous l'Arroseur Arrosé. A commemorative plaque was placed at the spot on March 1 1956.

Theatres and music-halls in the capital added 'animated projections' to their programmes as a special attraction, but it was not before 1905 that the first permanent cinema was opened in Brussels: Le Théâtre du Cinématographe, operated by Louis van Goitsenhoven. In the street in front of the cinema a poster invited passers-by to come and see the "miracle of the century", offering "the complete illusion of reality". The audience was so enthusiastic that other cinemas were created, for instance the Victoria in Brussels.

The Brussels Exhibition of 1910 was the right occasion to organise the first international congress of cinematography and its uses. The objects of this first congress were of singularly high standard; the protection of cinematographic works within the framework of the Berne Convention, the differentiation of shows according to age and taste, and the standardization of norms and terms. The Frenchman Alfred Machin, a touch-up photographer at Rutlinger's sent to Belgium by Charles Pathé, installed the first 'théâtre de prise de vues' (studio) in Belgium. In the Brussels' suburb Karreveld he built a hangar with windows, where he shot a dozen films of which only two are preserved today, stored in the Cinémathèque de Belgique. The activities at Karreveld were interrupted by the war.

On the third of August 1914, Germany declared war against France and the German army entered Belgium. The occupying power was soon organised. In September of 1914, a Verordnung ordered the continuation of activities of industry and trade and also the reopening of shops, cafés, theatres, cinemas and other entertainment sites. On March 20 1915, distributors and exhibitors were convened at the Censor's Office where they received the order to provide their films with Flemish titles and intertitles. The Flamenpolitik had its first effects. On March 16 1916, the occupying authorities decided to demand a tax of 10% of cinema box office revenues and to extend the application of this tax to other entertainment businesses: theatres, concerts, dance halls etc. At the beginning of 1918, when the administrative division of Belgium into Flanders (including Brussels) and the Walloon provinces had taken place by decree of the General Governor, a Vereeniging voor Filmopname (Society for Film Shooting) was founded.

During and after the Great War Belgian audiences could see films from the front. In 1915, the Belgian government at Le Havre had founded, following the French example, the Service Cinématographique de l'Armée Belge (SCAB - Film Service of the Belgian Army) which filmed the life and death of soldiers at the front. After the war three entrepreneurs created Belga Films, a large studio complex in Mechelen, which was baptised Cinémaville and concentrated on the production of documentaries and fiction films. One of the founders, Hyppolite De Kempeneer, left the firm to initiate in 1925 the Université Cinématographique Belgique (UCB - University for Belgian Cinematography), together with the chief editor of the newspaper Le Matin, Georges Landoy. Mostly they produced documentaries for the industry which they exchanged with foreign productions. Successful as they were, they created room for experiments and growth; however the UCB ceased to exist in the thirties.

L'Académie Cinématographique de Belgique (The Film Academy of Belgium) was founded in 1919 by J. J. Fortis. Its first projection took place on February 13 1919, consisting of a "public debate" and the "projection of sequences". Fortis' example was not followed and the press ignored him completely. Nobody disputes the fact that the term 'ciné-club' was invented by Louis Delluc and introduced by a manifesto which appeared in January of 1920, but one cannot deny that Fortis had the same idea one year earlier. Two years later, on June 5 1921, the inhabitants of Brussels were invited to the first projection at the Ciné-Club de Belgique. At the end of the silent era the existence of the Ciné-Club Liégeois, the Antwerpse Kinemaclub, the Filmclub in Ghent and the Ciné-Club of Ostende, run by Henri Storck, is noteworthy. The latter also became known as an avant-garde filmmaker at the end of the twenties. He showed his humoristic and impressionistic films in his own Ciné-Club and these were screened abroad as well.

In 1951, Belgian audiences for the first time saw an international coproduction: Le Banquet des Fraudeurs, distributed by Henri Storck. One year later the government recognised for the first time that it was of public interest to stimulate national cinema production: a 'production premium' was established, corresponding with the Lois d'Aide of France and Italy. In the early sixties official structures arose: a governmental production aid was granted (1963) and selection committees were formed (1964: Flanders; 1967 for the Walloon provinces) and film schools were opened. Slowly television broadcasters began (co)producing films. l'Homme au Crâne Rasé (1966) by André Delvaux was the first production to receive official financial aid based on the new structures. It received international praise. From then on directors like Harry Kümel, Jean Ray, Benoît Lamy and Chantal Akerman could develop their talent. In 1968 Albert Bert took over the Majestiek cinema in Harlebeke from his father and decided to rebuild it into a duplex, the first one in Belgium. Soon the related Bert and Claeys families joined forces. The success of their multiscreen cinemas, opened during the seventies and eighties in several major cities (including the Pentascoop in Courtrai in 1975 and the Decascoop in Ghent in 1982) eventually led to the 1988 opening of the Kinepolis in Brussels - at that time the largest multiplex cinema in the world. The Kinepolis Group, run by the Bert and Claeys families, then possessed a capacity of almost 20 000 seats divided over various multiplexes in Belgium, and this only grew over the following years.

Storck also participated in the Congrès du Cinéma Indépendant (Congress of the Independent Cinema) which took place in Brussels from November 28 to December 1 1930. At the congress the following problems were treated: the functioning of the ciné-clubs and specialised cinemas, the institution of an international script competition, the creation of an international magazine concerning filmed news, and the struggle against censorship.

Belgium joined the European race for sound systems and the opening of La Famille Kleptens by Gaston Schoukens took place on January 1 1930 in the presence of the Royal Family. It should have been a silent film, but with the coming of the 'talkies' the director decided to put sound to it, using rudimentary equipment. This comedy played throughout the country for several months. Most of the other directors kept making silent films in the following years - Henri Storck even opposed the coming of sound with all his might. The first full-length feature film in Flemish was directed by Jan Vanderheyden: De Witte (The White, 1934), which was, and still is, considered 'the' Belgian film of its decade.

On February 15 1938 an assembly of 25 exhibitors created the Association des Directeurs de Théâtres Cinématographiques de Belgique (ADTCB - Association of Belgian Cinema Theatre Owners). The association aimed to defend the moral and material interests of exhibitors in Belgium. Two years later, on May 28 1940, the Belgian army capitulated. Film production, which had just started to rise above its artisan structure, was put to an abrupt end by the war. Already in 1940 the structure of the cinematographic sector underwent numerous reforms. Regulations were based on Nazi ideology and cinematography was controlled by a strict and inescapable censorship, the Propaganda-Abteilung Belgien.

The ADTCB was dissolved and replaced by l'Association des Directeurs de Cinémas de Belgique (The Association of Owners of Belgian Cinemas), presided over by Emile Van Tuyckom. La Chambre Syndicale Belge de la Cinématographie (The Confederation of Belgian Cinematography) became La Chambre Syndicale Belge des Distributeurs de Films (The Confederation of Belgian Film Distributors), incorporating a production department. The official organ of the two organizations, which jointly composed the Gilde du Film (Film Guild) shortly after, was the bilingual two-monthly Cinema. Jan Vanderheyden was president of the new Confederation and of the production department. In this position he collected funding to produce his own full length features (and after the war was convicted for collaboration with the enemy).

Those who wanted to be engaged in any professional activity in the cinema field had to be members of one of the bodies of the 'New Order' corresponding with their speciality. The remaining cinemas, reduced in numbers by over 200, had to endure power cut-offs, price controls, witholding of material, punitive curfews, censorship, requisition of persons for forced labour, requisition of cinemas etcetera. In spite of all this, audiences continued to flock in massively. The minister of Foreign Affairs in exile, Paul Henri Spaak in London, founded the Service of Information and Propaganda, which produced films about the Belgian war efforts. These were shown in the free world and once in a while the resistance managed to see one or two of these films, which doubtless kept up moral.

After the liberation, those who had created the ADTCB regrouped around Ridelle and held a general assembly in Brussels on December 12 1944. During this meeting the president proposed a new practical and economical plan to organise exhibitors. The plan was adopted and the assembly commissioned its old representatives to realise it. After a lapse of six years caused by the war, the international relations between film enthusiasts were rebuilt thanks to a Swiss initiative; the international Congress of Basle which was held from August 30 to September 8 1945. Belgium was represented by Fernand Rigot, André Thirifays, André Cauvin, Léon Duwaerts and Maurice Widy. The latter three engaged notably in reactivating the Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique (Fipresci), of which the permanent secretarial office had been based in Brussels before the hostilities. During the whole month of June, the cinema world had its eyes on the first Festival Mondial du Film et des Beaux Arts de Belgique (World Festival of Film and Fine Arts of Belgium). The most famous stars, the most wanted directors, the most powerful producers made a point of being present. Among the VIP's were Sarah Churchill, Rita Hayworth, Marlene Dietrich, Gregory Peck, Trevor Howard, Jean Marais and Stewart Granger. The festival, directed by P.G. Van Hecke, was an unprecedented success.

In 1991, the ADTCB changed its name into Fédération des Cinémas de Belgique (FCB) of which Ms Rose Claeys-Vereecke and Mr Guy Morlion are President and Secretary General. From 1988 on with the Kinepolis Group, Belgium confirmed its position as a trendsetting and innovative country in respect of multiplexes - which was not without its effects on other exhibitors. Thus, after several months of restoration and cleaning, on June 17 1992, UGC reopened the doors of its 10-screen multiplex Eldorado in Brussels and decided to rename it UGC-de Brouckère. La Grande Salle Eldorado was restored in all its grandeur, with the immense art déco frescoes receiving a new coat of paint after careful restoration to their original state. One year later, in October 1993, the Kinepolis Group inaugurated the largest multiplex cinema ever built: Metropolis in Antwerp, now comprising 24 screens.

At the end of the eighties and especially at the beginning of the nineties Belgian audiences have enjoyed domestic productions again. There was international appreciation for Gérard Courbiau's Maître de Musique (1988) which was nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film. Toto le Héros (1991), by Jaco Van Dormael, won the Caméra d'Or in Cannes and the César 92 as best foreign film. Stijn Coninx' film Daens (1992) was also nominated for the Oscars in Los Angeles. The boom of quality film production in the following years gave room for many actors and actresses to develop their talents. The latest major international success was Corbiau's Farinelli, Il Castrato (1994) which was nominated for an Oscar and won the Golden Globe for the best foreign production. Over the last five years Belgian audiences have apparently rediscovered cinema-going, along with the internationally recognised quality of domestic productions.

Trailers from BELGIUM

name year country type trailer
Cavale 2003 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Couple Epatant, Un 2002 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Farinelli: il castrato 1994 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Goldfish Game 2002 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Goldfish Game 2002 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Que faisaient les femmes pendant.. 2000 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Thomas est Amoureux 2001 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch
Velo de Ghislain Lambert, Le 2000 BELGIUM RAM Click to Watch

Cinema links from BELGIUM

Centre Culturel et d'Animation Cinématographique Site containing information about current movies offering interviews, articles and events. All in French.
Cinebel Major film site on new releases in the Belgium Cinema, online ticketing trailers etc.
Cinema Mediterraneen a Bruxelles Open for films from the mediterranean countries like former Yuogslavian countries, Cyprus, Algeria
Cinema Novo The competition of this festival is open for feature films from all continents except the USA, Canada, the European countries, Australia and New Zealand.
Cinergie The Review and the Film Directory for the French speaking community in Belgium
Cinopsis Information on new releases in the Belgium Cinema, trailers, games etc.
Douranenez Film Festival in Brittany Small film festival focused at Bretagne and Belgium
Flanders International Film Festival Ghent-based annual international cinema event.
La mediatheque The belgium site on music, images and film
Les Films de la Passerelle Founded in 1984, Les Films de la Passerelle have specialised in documentary films which are engaged socially, humanitarian ad politically.
Scoops Cinema portal Major portal offering comprehensive cinema information includes news and an extensive archive with database
Short film festival Leuven This festival features short films from all countries from Europe
Site officiel du Festival International du Film Francophone This festival features films from the Francophone countries all over the world.

Etienne Gaspard Robertson


Joseph Plateau

Henri Storck

La Captive

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